Why I Want to Return to Live, In-Person Theatre

by Jessie Gleason

As COVID vaccination numbers continue to rise, I–like many of my peers–have been wondering “What is actually safe for me to do now?” My COVID bubble had been on essentially complete lockdown since we moved into our off-campus homes last August: we refused to see anyone outside of our bubble, refrained from indoor and outdoor dining, and hesitated to stay long indoors anywhere, even when masked. We all became fully vaccinated by the end of April but remained cautious–outdoor dining occasions were few and far between, indoor dining remained off the table, and visiting unvaccinated friends didn’t happen. The CDC’s guidance on May 16th that vaccinated people could resume all pre-COVID activities without masking or social distancing felt too soon, and I was stuck with a cognitive dissonance between continuing my support of science and health officials and what I felt in my gut was right.

With the CDC re-recommending masks for all individuals indoors, UNC’s student population reporting in at 86% vaccinated, UNC staff at 78%, and Orange County itself at 70.4%, I’ve been feeling safer doing things like eating meals outside restaurants, seeing the lower half of my vaccinated friends’ faces for the first time in over a year without the barrier of a screen, and frequenting more non-essential businesses (with a mask on and socially distant, of course). I’m preparing to head back to in-person classes sure that I, and those in my community, can make this fall infinitely safer than last one. There’s one thing I haven’t been able to do yet, and I honestly can’t wait until the opportunity rolls around: attend live, in-person theatre.

I’m the Technical Director and a Producer for one of the undergraduate theatrical groups on UNC’s campus–Company Carolina–and last semester we decided to break free of the endless stream of online theatre and perform two socially distant but in person theatre performances. As great as it was to be back in person and have zero COVID cases arise as a result of our productions, the performances had their flaws. Namely, the audiences were small to nonexistent and the usual feedback of clapping, laughing, gasping, etc. that makes theatre, well, theatre was absent.

Each new pre-COVID activity I partake in makes me nervous. But doing them has made me realize that these things can and are done safely every day. Just like going into a busy grocery store, or eating outside, or seeing friends I haven’t seen in a year used to scare me, I’m sure that being in a theatre for a performance with strangers will scare me too. But trusting science, trusting health officials to tell me what is and isn’t safe to do now that I’ve been vaccinated, and trusting that more and more of the people around me are becoming vaccinated and taking COVID precautions seriously means I’m ready to tackle this activity, too.

With Orange and surrounding counties having mask mandates in place and both the University and PlayMakers dedicated to the safety of everyone in their building between regular cleanings and strict protocols, I’m ready to make the leap to attend live theatre again. My life without art has been a dull one, and I, for one, can’t wait to start getting back to normal with the amazing season lined up this year!